“There is something about the outside of a horse that is good for the inside of a man.” – Winston Churchill
I am happy to say that I have survived an entire week out in the blogosphere. Writing is something I enjoy doing, thank goodness, because it is a real effort to write something every day that someone else would want to read. I have a new found respect for all of the other bloggers out there who took on this task long before I did.
Today, I am giving myself a little reward and a little break. I am going to Hitchcock Woods, with some friends, and ride horses along the beautiful trails. To say the least, Aiken is a horse friendly place. There is an equine walk signal for riders who need to cross Whiskey Road. Our street signs have a silhouette of a horse’s head on them. Every type of equine activity is only a short distance away, from rodeos to polo matches.
A ride through Hitchcock Woods makes for a magical day for anyone who rides. The Woods boasts the title of the largest privately owned urban forest with over 2,100 acres, and is maintained solely by contributions to the Hitchcock Woods Foundation. It is open to the public, free of charge, 365 days a year. It also contains over 70 miles of riding trails. Horses rule here, as joggers, hikers and dog walkers must grant the right of way to riders and their mounts. It is truly an equestrian mecca.
For me, the experience of sharing a life with and riding horses has allowed me to learn lessons I might never have learned. They are wild animals in domestic care. Horses are prey and are always afraid that danger lurks around every tree. It takes a long time for them to come to trust their human herd member enough to go places and do things simply because you ask them to.
The biggest lesson I have learned from my years with these noble, graceful and beautiful creatures is patience, something my husband will quickly tell you was never one of my strong points. I have come to understand that a horse will learn to do things on its own terms and its own schedule. Years ago, a very knowledgeable horse person told me that if you approach a horse with an attitude, they will respond in kind. So, I now know to never go out to the pasture with anything other than a calm demeanor. Trust me, they will smell and sense anything else a mile away. They will walk away and ignore you, waiting for you to get over it.
I also have found that there are great therapists. Going out to brush their manes and tails, or just scratch them in their “sweet spot” can make anything else you had on your mind just melt away. When you have been accepted into the herd, you know it. They will attempt to groom you in return, which is no small compliment. It is an act of genuine affection, respect and bonding. The touch from a horse’s lips on your cheek or in your hair is like no other feeling in the world.
When I ride in The Woods, or anywhere else for that matter, I am truly transported. Again, the world is left behind for a brief while. All that matters, for those few hours, is the feel of your horse, the sound of his hooves, sunlight though tree branches and a sense of calm. It is at these times, whether you are coaxing your horse into a full gallop or simply letting him stop to sip at a stream, that you know what a real sense of peace feels like.
My favorite of our three horses, but please don’t tell the other two, is Big Joe. He was appropriately named before I adopted him. He is an Irish Draught, Thoroughbred cross and was once a hunter/jumper who ran with the hounds in fox hunts. He is a gentle giant, coming in at over 1,600 pounds, and he is my friend. He is the first one at the fence to greet me, even if it means that his meal will wait a bit. He loves to play in the sprinklers, and knows how to unlock his stall for late night escapes. If I call to him at night, he will respond with a nicker. When he and I head off to wander the trails, he carries me as if I am precious cargo. He is easy to ride and requires very little direction. From the relaxed movement of his body to the look in his eyes, I know that he enjoys our outings as much as I do.
So, I’m using Sunday to recharge my batteries and spend some time among friends – both four legged and two legged. It clears my head and improves my outlook for another week. I might actually be ready to watch Bravo’s invasion of South Africa. I hope you don’t mind that I took you riding today. If you are ever in my neck of the woods, stop by. Three horses – no waiting.